They say culture is never what’s in your employee handbook. It’s best defined inside out — what employees think about the workplace. So here’s the inside scoop on what’s it like working at Tinkerbox.

“Tinkerbox is a unicorn. It won’t be easy to find another workplace like this out there.”

Those aren’t my words. And I would disagree but only because for most of us, Tinkerbox is more than a workplace.

Here, you will find friends, a sense of belonging akin to family and most importantly, like-minded peers who share a similar belief in work excellence and growth.

For the past 5 months, I’ve had the privilege to be a part of the Tinkerbox family. So on my last week, here is my bittersweet take on the Tinkerbox culture that I will surely miss.

TinkerRetreat at Batam 

Work Hard

Since this is my first work experience at software development, the scope of work stretched me beyond my comfort zone. This almost half a year within an agency took me through three different projects, which provided me with a wide scope of learning.

Building an application from scratch is starkly akin to starting on a clean slate; you are keenly aware that every line of code you write will either become an asset or liability, art or unwanted tattoos. The pain of dealing with these tattoos, you will experience firsthand through suffering with poor design decisions. On occasion, it’s because you’ve inherited a legacy project, but more often than not, it’s because your own work comes back to haunt you.

Within our ranks, high standards of code quality is to be expected invariably, be it a simple app or more complex one, whether you are a senior developer, or a junior one. With these expectations in place, you will find yourself guided by an omnipresent force that makes you think more deliberately about your work when you put it up for review.

Here at Tinkerbox, interns have as much autonomy as full time developers. Everyone is in charge of managing their own time and delivering the work assigned to you. As part of our workflow, accountability is enforced through daily status updates, which is as much an opportunity to inform others on the team, as it is a chance to for self reflection. Beyond that, trust works as a fundamental building block in the social contract between team members. The autonomy given to us is only possible because everyone is trusted to be responsible and competent.

As interns, we also get to participate in client engagement; meetings to gather project requirements, feedback and user acceptance testing is part and parcel of our work. This aspect is one that I enjoy most because this is where we developers get to connect the dots, between the lines of code you write and the value it brings to the client.

Beyond pushing code, developers in an agency can see themselves as being part of a bigger mission to bring value to the world through great software. Whether it’s modernising a traditional SME or building a startup product, taking pride in writing good software goes a long way beyond the project handover.

Learn Hard

As an intern, I am very thankful for the positive learning culture that Tinkerbox encourages. Full-time developers are assessed based on their propensity to coach juniors and work collaboratively. Whether you are the founder, tech lead, senior or junior developer, you believe in bringing value onto the table as much as learning from others to refine your craft.

If you have an ego or a rockstar mentality, you will probably not fit in very well as part of the working team culture. I found that the developers I look up to most are both confident in their work but also humble in character.

Matthew, my project lead, was managing 3 interns and 1 junior developer at one point in time. On top of that, he was leading one of the biggest projects at Tinkerbox and doing the most complex work himself. Yet, he would take time out to refactor my ugly code over pair programming sessions (up till the very last weekend of my internship). When dealing with a complex section of the project, he would get the team together and explain his design considerations for the application. I have much respect for Matt’s genius, work ethic and generosity.

Matthew explaining a project’s entity relationship diagram (Censored to protect our client's privacy!) 

Learning through doing is the mantra here. When tasked to ship a feature, we are pushed to find solutions on the job; whether it’s through getting advice from fellow developers, trawling through Google or fumbling around with new tools.

For self-learners (which is all of us of course), tomes on programming, business and design line the shelves throughout the office. Recommendations for a good read, discussions and sharing of resources on the #developers Slack channel are appreciated.

Code reviewers give ample feedback (and compliments) so that we can improve iteratively our individual abilities and ensure that only good code is merged into the code base. When developers have differing opinions, the culture of open communication allows us to voice our opinions for discussion and improve decision making. Developers don’t always agree on things (we use spaces over tabs, take that Richard Hendricks), but open debate leads to better outcomes for everyone involved.

On TinkerThursdays, we put ourselves to the test with coding challenges. Also, developers take turns to present post-mortems for completed projects on occasion, highlight cool tools used and discuss future developments for existing projects. From time to time (and this is my favourite), someone will present a topic of their interest such as evolutionary programming, thinking biases and the physics behind string instruments. Intellectual curiosity goes beyond programming at Tinkerbox and is a celebrated part of our team DNA.


Play Hard

When you have colleagues that you enjoy working hard with, it’s impossible not to have loads of fun together as well. It’s the kind of fun that starts out huddling around the foosball table and ending with long chats and incessant laughter that goes on late into the night. We’ve had many an occasion to really let out the inner child that we refuse to outgrow. Perhaps this has been the key all along, to sustaining intellectual curiosity.

The precious foosball table

Frisbee, basketball, movie outings, pool, hiking, biking, food adventures, music jamming sessions, socrates cafe, board games and the list goes on. We could have as many co-curricular activities as a university.

For me, the most memorable activity would be a hiking trip 9 of us undertook to Mount Ophir. Waking up at 3:30am on a Saturday morning after the previous work day, most of us were sleep deprived but super hyped. After a 10 hour hike up the 1276m mountain, all of us managed to get to the peak for a picnic and an unintended suntan. It was a long walk that wouldn’t have been possible without peer support in the form of conversations, food, laughter.

At the peak of Mount Ophir

Amongst us, you will find talented individuals that make the workplace more colourful. We have the manga artist, cellists, guitarists, photographers, singers, pole dancers and of course, the resident comedians. Whoever said you can’t be both left-brained and right-brained?

The Tinkerbox Family

There is a Chinese saying that goes “家家有本难念的经” — every family has their issues. The 3 co-founders will humbly say that there is so much more to improve in the company. But I think they too, quietly pride themselves on how Tinkerbox has grown into a company that is a work haven for digital craftsmen today.

“What kind of company would you want to work in if you were a developer?” — This question has guided the management’s philosophy when they started Tinkerbox and I believe, will continue to guide them as they bring the company towards bigger dreams.

Perhaps this is the dream workplace they wished to have when they first started out as student entrepreneurs. For us who have had the opportunity to work and grow here even for a while, we are blessed.

Here, our triple bottom line is aligned with how we pride ourselves on building great products, constantly pursuing the perfection of our craft and having lots of fun while doing so. That to me, embodies the Tinkerbox family motto.

Compared to a lot of unicorn tech start ups out there, we might not have the fanciest office (there is a 2 degrees slant where we currently house ourselves), but when a building wash threatens to flood us through the leaky shophouse windows, you can definitely count on everyone to help save the computers — and have a good laugh while doing so.

And then, it’s back to work after.

Article by Kate Lim.